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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 24 July 2004

Topic: Oddities

Faulkner in Hollywood - Even Now

In the pages I have already covered The winners of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Here is... The Faulkner Bonus

This weekend the Associated Press catches us up on more of such things -

Faulkner goes (slightly) slap-happy
David Sheffield, writer for Eddie Murphy films, wins a contest dedicated to the wordy novelist.
Emily Wagster Pettus, Saturday, July 24, 2004

And yes, Emily is indeed a "Wagtser."

First understand screenwriter David Sheffield was head writer for "Saturday Night Live" on NBC from 1980 to 1983 - and it seems he got that job by mailing comedy sketches to the producers in New York while he himself was working at a Biloxi advertising agency way down in Mississippi. And the AP reports that with his writing partner Barry Blaustein, Sheffield is pretty much responsible the famous Eddie Murphy characters: "trash-talking Gumby, goofy Buckwheat and James Brown in the hot tub."

Okay then.

And this man won this year's Faux Faulkner Contest. How? "By imagining what it would've been like if William Faulkner, a Nobel laureate known for thickets of challenging (often parenthetical) prose, had written for the Three Stooges."


He came up with a 550-word script, "As I Lay Kvetching,"
... which has Moe, Larry and Curly, "slack-jawed and splayfooted," renovating a home, with the eye-gouging, nose-twisting slapstick guided by plenty of Faulknerian stage directions:

"At last it is Curly who picks up the plank, rough hewn and smelling of sweet gum, and -- feeling the weight and heft and fiber of it -- swings it innocently (bending to retrieve the tool, the ball-peen hammer dropped casually on Larry's toe) and feeling the awful force of the blow as it (the plank) catches Moe upside his head...."
Perhaps the whole script will be available one day for us all.

A bit of it is available here from Hemispheres Magazine -
As I Lay Kvetching

By William Faulkner
Stooges Episode #1632
Revisions by Mort Freberg, Abe Shineman, Paul DeMarco, Curtis Ney
Eighth Draft, August 12, 1942
Hemispheres Magazine also provides, helpfully, texts back through the last fives years of winners.

AP also reports that Faulkner's niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, who has coordinated the parody contest for fifteen years with her husband, Larry, said Sheffield's script clearly stood out.

"What I cannot believe, from the hundreds and hundreds of entries we read, is that there could be something this fresh and this new and this funny. This one was unique."

Yep - and this extra AP detail from Emily Wagster Pettus -
Like Sheffield, Faulkner toiled as a Hollywood screenwriter but enjoyed only marginal success and even less fulfillment in the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

"I think screenwriting is the antithesis of Faulkner," Sheffield said from his Los Angeles home. "Faulkner is about the joy and profundity of language and words. The best screenwriting is invisible. The words should disappear into the faces of the actors."

Many of Sheffield's own words have disappeared into the malleable face of [Eddie] Murphy.

Sheffield lived in Faulkner's native Oxford as a child in the early 1960s, and he still tries to visit the state a couple of times a year.
Ah Hollywood, and Mississippi....

This calls for a field trip from your intrepid editor. A few blocks east of this desk is Musso and Franks, one of the oldest restaurants in Hollywood, right in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, with the best martinis in the west, and the worst service anywhere in North America, from surly waiters in their seventies who look like they came from Central Casting after the "Cocoon" movies wrapped. In the early forties, when they were both screenwriters in this neighborhood, it is said Faulkner and Fitzgerald often used to have lunch at Musso and Franks. Legend has it that, after lunch and many martinis one afternoon, the two of them got to talking about which Hemingway short story just could not be made into a movie. They settled on "To Have and to Have Not." Then they wrote the screen play and the movie got made. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall - her movie first role. And the two of them got married - that would be Lauren and Humphrey, not Scott and Bill. Anyway, in homage to Faulkner, lunch and a few martinis at Musso and Franks might be in order.

After all, Fitzgerald lived on my street, just one block south.

Of course I won't bump into Faulkner and Fitzgerald at lunch, but maybe I'll bump into David Sheffield. And of course I will buy him a drink. He earned it.

Posted by Alan at 11:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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